I wake up scheming

Researchers find new ways to make mice worry

While there are a lot of things that could make the common house mouse into an even more obnoxious pest (in fact, my mind reels at the possibilities: heat vision, laser claws, even just breeding them to be ten times their natural size), an exciting new method has just been discovered by Shahin Raffi of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Raffi and his team have uncovered a gene (slitrkp5) which, when turned off, can turn your happy-go-lucky house mouse into a nervous wreck, exhibiting the repetitive grooming behaviors of a human with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  The mice not only behave like humans with OCD, they even demonstrate similar brain activity.

This new model of OCD has exciting implications for researchers trying to better understand the neuroscience underlying the disorder.  It could even help researchers develop genetic treatments.  More importantly, though, are the implications for people who are trying to overrun the world with especially annoying rodents.

Imagine, if you will, a world overrun not just with house mice, but pathologically anxious house mice.  They’d repeatedly chew through the wires of your favorite appliances and steal your cashews because they don’t know when to stop annoying you!  And they’d be too cautious to eat the cheese from a mousetrap without first repeatedly checking that the cheese is safe!  They would be infuriating!  I hate to sound cliché, but…

Bwa ha ha ha ha!

So this is my newest scheme: breed an army of house mice missing the slitrkp5 gene and introduce them into households worldwide.  Brilliant, right?

Unfortunately, Rafii’s mice don’t seem to demonstrate the symptoms necessary for this scheme to be really annoying.  In fact, his mice seem more reclusive and self-destructive than normal mice.  But surely an evil genius like myself can find some way to make use of an enormous population of timorous, shivering pests.

I won’t clam up about this scheme!

Laugh at me, if you wish to tempt my salty, invertebrate wrath, but I can promise you that if this scheme succeeds, the world will tremble before my fearsome bivalve army.  And no, I’m not just flexing my mussels.

© Gwen and James Anderson

Recent work from McGill University biologist Frédéric Guichard shows that California mussels, whose networking skills have previously been questioned because of their sedentary lifestyle, may communicate at much greater distances than previously supposed.  Guichard and colleagues have created mathematical models based on ecological data to show that when a group of mussels releases larvae, it can cause nearby populations to do the same, setting off a chain reaction of larva release that can extend all the way up the coast.  These chain reactions can result in closely-timed larval release in mussels from San Diego to Seattle, and these patterns could exist in other bivalves as well.

This could have tremendous implications for conservation efforts, which had previously focused on isolated colonies of mussels instead of considering interactions between disparate communities.  But more importantly (for me), this could have tremendous implications for my efforts to corral the bivalves of the Pacific Ocean into a fearsome army, capable of attacking coastal towns from Baja California to the Bering Strait.

After all, how much of a leap is it from one group of mussels telling a faraway group to release larvae, to a single deranged marine biologist (moi) instructing all the mussels of the West coast to simultaneously invade the land?  Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but with some finessing of the mussel signaling mechanisms, who knows what could happen?

Casual tee prevents casualties
April 6, 2010, 2:41 pm
Filed under: engineering your doom, evil biology | Tags: , , ,

The first thing anybody will tell you about raising bloodthirsty radioactive gila monsters to guard your subterranean lair (aside from “that’s madness, Dr. Rocket, they’ll tear you to bits!”) is that you’ve got to suit up: layer upon layer of bulky, unflattering body armor to make sure that the Gila monster doesn’t poison you with its deadly venom.  And that armor doesn’t breathe at all.

But wait!  Thanks to some new research from the University of South Carolina, the roly-poly lizard-keeper look may soon be a thing of the past.  Dr. Xiaodong Li has found that an ordinary cotton T-shirt doped with boron can turn into a material comparable to the armor used on tanks.

The process is simple, too – nothing you can’t do at home, assuming you live in a well-stocked underground laboratory. All you have to do is preheat your oven to 2012 degrees Fahrenheit, dip the tees in a boron solution, and bake (in argon gas, to keep the shirts from burning) until the cotton fibers turn into carbon fibers and bond with the boron to create boron carbide.  Remove from heat, cool on wire rack until wearable, and then sport your spiffy new duds anywhere you think you might get ripped to shreds by venomous beasts.

Unfortunately, the heavy-duty tees are far from being ready for me to wear to the Gila monster pit (or for Dr. Li’s original intent: as body armor for armed forces or police).  But early results are already lighter and stretchier than the presently available boron carbide plate body armor.  And when you’re training any sort of man-eating monster, maneuverability is key, so let’s hope that Dr. Li’s research gets us somewhere.